Copying old floppy disks – an adventure in time!

Yesterday I inherited a couple of cases of old 3.5″ floppy disks.  Most of them were plainly software, of no special relevance.  But it was possible that some contained files and photographs of a deceased relative, which should be preserved.

My first instinct was to use my travelling laptop, which runs Windows 7, and a USB external floppy drive which is branded as Dell but seems to be display the label TEAC FD-05PUB in Devices and Printers.  This seems to be the one USB floppy drive available under various names.  But when I inserted the first floppy, Windows told me that the floppy needed to be formatted.  Obviously it could not read the disk, so no good.

At this end of the game, I think I understand why.  The reason seems to be that the floppy was an original 3.5″ 720kb unit, while later 3.5″ drives were formatted for 1.44 mb.  The TEAC FD-05PUB driver is badly written and only understands the latter format.  So it supposes that the 720k disk is not formatted.  This is shoddy work by somebody, and needs to be fixed.

At least the floppy drive does work with Windows 7.  Apparently it often does not work with Windows 10, thanks to an attempt by Microsoft to drop support for it.  There are various workarounds, such as this one.  But it didn’t help me read that disk.

However I still have all the laptops that I have ever bought, since I started freelancing in 1997.  Surely the older ones would have a built-in floppy drive?

A twenty-year old Dell Inspiron 7500 peeks out from under a monitor.

The oldest machine is a Compaq – remember them?  But this refuses to boot, complaining about the date and time.  The internal CMOS battery is long flat, it seems.  Unsure what to do, I leave this.

Next up is a chunky Dell Inspiron 7500.  This too refuses to boot, but – more helpfully – offers to take me into Setup, for the BIOS.  I go in, and, acting on instinct, set the date and time and invite it to continue.  And … it works!  I did have some hard thoughts about whoever decided that a flat battery should prevent Windows booting, mind you!

Anyway it boots up in Windows 98.  A swift shove of the disk into the floppy drive, and … I can see the contents.  In fact the disk does contain some useful files.  I copy them into a file on the desktop.

Next problem – how do I get the files off the machine and onto something useful?

This proves to be quite a problem!  The machine does not have a built-in CD writer.  It does not have a network port, although it does have serial and parallel ports.  (I had visions at this point of using dear old, slow old Laplink!)  It was once connected to the internet – by dialup!  It does have some PCMCIA card slots.  I toy with seeing if I could get a PCMCIA-to-USB card – they do exist.  PCMCIA is 16 bit, tho.  I think you can do this sort of thing, although not for USB.

Maybe I could get a PCMCIA network card!  They’re all long out of production, of course.  I used to have one, in fact, I vaguely recall.  I also recall throwing it out.  I am not looking forward to trying to configure networking anyway.

I don’t suppose there is a Wifi interface built in?  Not likely.  But anyway I right-click on My Computer, Properties, and look at the Devices tab.  And I forget all about Wifi when I see the magic words … Universal Serial Bus.  Yup – that’s USB!  So there is support there.  But why?  There’s no USB port.  I hunt around the rear once more… and spy… a USB port!!!  Hidden where it won’t be seen!  Yay!

But I am not home yet.  Oh no.  When I stick a USB2 key drive in, it demands a driver!  It seems that Windows 98 did not recognise USB drives by default.  You have to install a driver.  Luckily there is one.  You download nusb36e.exe from the web on your main computer, burn it to a CDR – a normal 700Mb one will do -, and then read that in the CD drive that – thankfully – is built in to the machine.  Full instructions are here.  You remove all the existing USB drivers, install the patch, restart, and get an extra USB driver.

I shove a USB2 key drive in, and up it comes as drive E.  Magic!

But I am still not home and dry.  When I click on it, it demands to format it!!  The reason for this is that modern keydrives use the NTFS file system, whereas Win98 was still using the old FAT32 system.  So I go ahead – it’s an empty drive.

Finally it works.  The USB drive opens in Windows explorer, I copy the files, pull the drive out and insert it into my main machine.  And …. I can see the files!!!  Phew!

Now to sift through all those floppies…. yuk!

Pretty painful, I think you’ll admit.  Only just possible.  In a few years those floppies will be useless to anybody but a laboratory.  But they have retained their formatting well, for more than 20 years.

So don’t assume the worst, if you can’t read a floppy in your nice new machine.  It may not be the floppy.


From my diary

I’ve now returned working on the letter of Aurelius and Mizonius, to which the breviarium or summary of the canons of the council of Hippo was attached, and with which it is usually transmitted.  This is basically done, although I’ve had to look up a few phrases.  It was much easier to do, after spending so much time with the canons, than I remembered.  The more Latin we do, the better we get; if, that is, we don’t cheat and gloss over difficulties with a paraphrase.  I’ll post that next week.  I’ll also look at whatever material survives about the Council of Carthage in 397, where the breviarium was compiled.

I’ve continued to work on the Tertullian Project Technical Update.  At the moment that means finding broken links and fixing them as best I can.  Some of these broken links are more than 20 years old.  In many cases all that can be done is to remove them.

One lesson that I have found is never, ever, to rely on images on another site.  There is one page which relies on a photograph of the first page of a manuscript at a famous library.  That photograph was paid for by me.  I commissioned that library, long ago, to make a photograph for me.   This was before digital cameras, so I got a colour slide for my money.  Later they placed an image on their website.  But … it has vanished.  It is no longer there.  Fortunately I kept a copy.

When I created the Roman Cult of Mithras pages, back in 2011 or 2012, one of my motives was to build a directory of images of Mithras online.  There were and are very many such photos, taken by tourists, in high resolution and full-colour.  These are far better than the reference photographs.  So it helps to be able to identify them.  I took a decision when I did so to hold local copies of all the images.  I knew that newspapers sometimes publish good photographs of finds.  I also knew that newspapers do not tend to keep articles online for very long!  Images appear and vanish.  The only solution is to keep the image locally.  The Tertullian Project Technical Update is proving the wisdom of that policy.

Identifying broken links is a chore.  There are various online sites, all of which limit you to a small number of pages unless you pay them.  I had some difficulty finding scripts online, until I thought to add “Github” to the search terms.  Indeed I adapted one PHP script to run locally for my own purposes.  But of course something like the Linkchecker python script is far better, even if it takes ages to run.

I’ve still got quite a few links to fix. That can happen in slow time, as I feel like it.


Christmas Eve

I would like to wish a very Merry Christmas to everyone who reads this blog.

It is Christmas Eve here, and everything is quiet.  It has rained heavily today, and then turned cold.  Ice is predicted, and probably truly, for I went out for a walk late this afternoon, and it was very cold indeed.  The endless rumble of commerce has ceased, for one day.  The silence on Christmas Eve can be very eerie if you are on your own, as so many are.

I don’t know if I shall feel like blogging tomorrow.  I hope that we all have something nice to do, to celebrate the best of days.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

PS.  Apologies to those who accidentally got emailed the start of a draft post on Christmas trees – I pressed publish instead of save.  I discovered more research was needed!


The medieval catalogue of the abbey of Lorsch now online!

I discovered yesterday that there is a project to reconstitute online the scattered volumes of the library of the abbey of Lorsch in Germany, and that some of the books are now online.  This includes the lengthy 9th century list of books then in the library.

Lorsch was founded during the Dark Ages, as part of the revival of learning spearheaded by Charlemagne.  A whole series of monasteries were founded, running eastwards, including Lorsch.  The holdings of these libraries remained intact until the Renaissance.  The 15th century manuscript hunter Poggio Bracciolini took advantage of his attendance at the Council of Constance (as a papal sidekick) to visit many of them, in search of the lost works of classical antiquity.

Unfortunately they all suffered badly during the Thirty Years’ War, when the Swedish army campaigned in Southern Germany and destroyed all of them.  Unique items went to line the leak boots of Swedish bombardiers.  The loot of Lorsch was taken to the Palatinate, to Heidelberg, and the disposal of the books formed part of the settlement of the Thirty Years War.  The Lorsch books mostly went to the Vatican, to form the “Palatinus Latinus” collection.

Here’s the page for the Lorsch catalogue, today Ms. Vatican. Pal. Lat. 57.  The catalogue is folios 1-7.  (Note that you can’t use IE for this; use Chrome.)

The first page (folio 1r) is mostly bible books.  Here’s the top of folio 1v:


Chronica Eusebii. Hieronymi & Bedae. In uno codice.

Tripertita historia libri xii. Socratis, Zozomeni [i.e. Sozomen], Theodoriti. In uno codice.

Gesta pontificorum romanorum. In uno codice.

A little further down is the epitome of Pompeius Trogus in 44 books, in a single volume.

After a few leaves of Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose, etc, at the top of a leaf we find Tertullian:


Liber Tertulliani presbyteri   (Book of Tertullian the presbyter)
Item alius lib. Tertulliani.  (Likewise another book of Tertullian).

This was almost certainly a copy of the two volume Corpus Cluniacensis of the works of Tertullian.  Sadly it has not come down to us.

The catalogue was printed long ago in G. Becker, Catalogi Bibliothecarum Antiqui, Bonnae 1885.

Looking at these images makes me nostalgic for the 90s, when I had just started the Tertullian Project, and learned of the lost Tertullian of Lorsch.  There was no Google Books then.  So I travelled to Cambridge University Library to consult “Becker”.

This was held in the awe-inspiring Rare Books Room, where you weren’t allowed to photocopy.  Of course it was impossible to do more than skim the book, and I ended up buying a reprint online.  (These days Becker is freely available for download at, etc.)  It is by my elbow as I write, a very early purchase in my work online.  I read it, poring over the crabbed Latin, and reread it.  First I looked for Tertullian’s; but gradually it became so much more.

To read those library lists is to enter the literary history of the middle ages.  The book is a massive compendium of lists of the works that really filled up monastic libraries.  The bible at the front, then the fathers, then miscellania, then classical stuff at the back.  The lists are full of works never read today, but everywhere in the middle ages.  We read Tacitus and Suetonius; they read Dares Phrygius and Justinus.  It is a vision of a different world.

I never hoped that the manuscripts themselves would be online.  But so they are.

These are truly days of miracles and wonders.


From my diary

It’s rare that I can mark my birthday, because it is in October.  Once the summer holidays are over, managers recruit contractors in September. So as a rule, I have just started a contract when my birthday comes round.  So, “big birthday” or not, it goes unmarked.

However this year I am still at home, so I went down to St Austell in Cornwall for a few days.

I was fortunate to have exceedingly good weather.  Each day I went down to the little port of Charlestown.  Let me inflict a couple of holiday photographs on you, before I move on to matter of more general interest.

Charlestown at dusk
The setting sun glitters on the masts of the yacht, and on the lighthouse on Gribben Head, as a huge moon fades into view at the top right.

Back I came yesterday, and unfortunately I had to spend a few hours at the end of a 350 mile journey in writing a sample coding exercise for a company that I have applied to.  Such exercises can consume a lot of applicants’ time, but cost the company nothing, so I usually avoid them.  But this role is very close to home, so worth it.  A splitting headache today is reminding me of the price for not resting on Sunday.

I spent some of the time in the hotel searching the web for material related to Ephraem Graecus and Ephraim Latinus.  Some of this was quite productive.  I need to download all of this, and digest it into my notes.

This raises the question of how best to proceed.  In one way it would be best to update my existing post on Ephraim Graecus, as I get more information.  In another this might become very long.  The alternative is to scatter the data across a series of posts as I read it, which is messy for those who come looking for it.  Possibly I should create a page on this blog about Ephraim Graecus, and then blog my progress, updating the page and using the blog posts as announcements, as it were.  I’m not sure.

Ephraim Latinus is still on my mind, and indeed the focus for all this work.  While I was away, the Ice/Demy (eds) volume When the Trumpet Sounds appeared.  Or, rather, I found it lying behind my back gate on the concrete, where the Yodel delivery man had thrown it.  This inaccessible volume contains an article with the publication of the English translation of Ephraem Latinus, De fine mundi.  I shall scan the article and place it here somewhere.

Incidentally isn’t it curious that an poor-quality delivery firm should name itself after a high-pitched ullulating scream?  More or less the same sound, in fact, that its customers make after discovering to their horror that the vendor has chosen to send their goods by Yodel?

I’m finding that early editions of Ephraim Graecus are not online – the Thwaites edition in particular.

A couple of studies are in dissertations which do not seem to be online.  For one of these I wrote to the author, but no answer.  These ought to be obtained.

There is also a 7 volume edition of the Greek text, printed from Assemani, with modern Greek translation.  I have yet to find any sign of this either.

So there is quite a bit to do.  But not today!


From my diary

I’ve been looking some more at Byzantine science.  My original intention was to write a series of posts on each area of science.  But I’m finding that in fact I don’t know enough about the subjects to do so.  In particular knowledge of Byzantine mathematics and astronomy seems to require more knowledge of the works of Aristotle than I possess.  So I will probably do no more on this.

Yesterday I was looking at an English translation of a poem by al-Akhtal, the court poet of the early Ummayads, whom I wrote about here.  This led me to wonder how to post a poem on WordPress, which is what this blog runs on.  There is no feature in the blogging platform to support the sort of alternately indented lines that a regular poem has.  I found quite a number of posts asking why there is not a plugin to make this possible.

A bit of experimentation, and I developed a basic wordpress plugin with very little difficulty, that added a drop-down to the editor with a set of new and custom styles to apply to the text.  I set up Xampp locally on Windows 10 and installed WordPress inside it.  A short article told me what a simple plugin looked like. Another told me how to use a generator to create one, which I did, although I had to create a GitHub account to use it.  Finally another article advised me on how to do the changes manually; which I did instead inside my plugin, adding the PHP code to the main generated plugin .php file, and sticking a css file in the root.  It all sort of worked, and I pushed it to GitHub.

But … it just did not work to format poetry.  The problem is not the plugin.  The problem is that WordPress strips whitespace in a manner impossible to control.  You can insert stuff in a poetic format.  But the moment you open the post in the visual editor, that format is destroyed.

This is a fundamental problem with poetry in WordPress.  It can’t be fixed, unless or until the main developers address the whitespace handling issue.

The only possible approach is to format it all as <PRE>, which is not much of an answer and looks terrible.

Perhaps it says something about the importance of poetry in our society, that the main blogging platform for writing online makes it impossible to post verse?

I need to return to translating Eutychius of Alexandria.  I have a couple of books to review.

My trip to Rome later this month will not now happen, after my travelling companion became ill.

I read this morning that the publishing industry continues its campaign against the SciHub pirate website, through which alone normal people can access most journal articles.  Apparently a US judge wants to prevent Americans from accessing it.  That should certainly give China an advantage!  The site itself is apparently hosted in Russia, fortunately.

To finish, let me attempt to post the poem by al-Akhtal, in preformatted format, as translated by Suzanne Stetkevych.[1]  I laid it out in Notepad; but my attempt to create a preformatted block and paste it in was a complete failure.  Even preformatted text is not handled well by the visual editor, it seems.  In the end I switched to text view and pasted it in there, with <pre></pre> tags around it.  This gives the following appearance:

How long will it remain formatted, I wonder?  Well, let’s see!

Here is the complete poem, that al-Akhtal delivered before the caliph, while drunk.

Al-Akhtal's Khaffa al-Qatinu: The Nasib

1. Those that dwelt with you have left in haste,
       departing at evening or at dawn,
   Alarmed and driven out by fate's caprice,
       they head for distant lands.
2. And I, on the day fate took them off,
       was like one drunk
   On wine from Hims or Jadar
       that sends shivers down the spine,
3. Poured generously from a brimming wine-jar,
       lined with pitch and dark with age,
   Its clay seal broken
       off its mouth,
4. A wine so strong it strikes
       the vital organs of the reveller,
   His heart, hungover, can barely
       sober up.
5. I was like that, or like a man
       whose joints are racked with pain,
   Or like a man whose heart is struck
       by charms and amulets,
   Out of longing for them and yearning
       on the day I sent my glance after them
   As they journeyed in small bands
       on Kawkab Hill's two slopes.
7. They urged on their mounts,
       turning their backs on us,
   while in veiled howdahs, if you spoke softly to them,
       were maidens lovely as statues.
8. They entice the tribesmen
       until they ensnare them,
   Yet they seem feeble-minded
       when questioned.
9. Forget about union with beautiful women
       when they are sure
   That you are a man whom
       old age's blossom has demeaned!
10. They turned away from me
       when my bow's stringer bent it
   And when my once jet-black locks
       turned white.
11. They do not heed the man who calls them
       to fulfill his need,
   Nor do they set their sights upon
       a white-haired man.
12. They headed east when summer's blast
       had wrung the branches dry,
   And, except where ploughshares run,
       all green had withered.
13. So the eye is troubled by tears
       shed for a now-distant campsite
   Whose folk will find it hard to ever
       meet again.
14. They are cut off, like a rope,
       and the eye follows after them,
   Between al-Shaqiq
       and al-Maqsim Spring,
15. Until they descended to a land
       on the side of a river bed
   Where the tribes of Shayban and Ghubar
16. Until when they left behind
       the sandy tamarisk ground
   And had reached high ground, or said,
       "This is the trench [that Khosroes] dug."
17. They alighted in the evening,
       and we turned aside our noble-bred camels:
   For the man in need, the time had come
       to journey.
18. To a man whose gifts do not elude us,
       whom God has made victorious,
   So let him in his victory
       long delight!
19. He who wades into the deep of battle,
       auspicious his augury,
   The Caliph of God
       through whom men pray for rain.
20. When his soul whispers its intention to him
       it sends him resolutely forth,
   His courage and his caution
       like two keen blades.
21. In him the common weal resides,
       and after his assurance
   No peril can seduce him
       from his pledge.
22. Not even the Euphrates when its tributaries
       pour seething into it
   And sweep the giant swallow-wort from its two banks
       into the middle of its rushing stream,
23. And the summer winds churn it
       until its waves
   Form agitated puddles
       on the prows of ships,
24. Racing in a vast and mighty torrent
       from the mountains of Byzance
   Whose foothills shield them from it
       and divert its course,
25. Is ever more generous than he is
       to the supplicant
   Or more dazzling
       to the beholder's eye.
26. They did not desist from their treachery and cunning
       against you
   Until, unknowingly, they portioned out
       the maysir-players' flesh.	 
27. Then whoever witholds his counsel
       from us
   And whose hand is niggardly to those
       beneath us
28. Will be the ransom
       of the Commander of the Faithful,
   When a fierce and glowering battle-day
       bares its teeth.
29. Like a crouching lion, poised to pounce,
       his chest low to the ground,
   For a battle in which there is
       prey for him,
30. [The Caliph] advances with an army
       two-hundred thousand strong,
   The likes of which no man or jinn
       has ever seen.
31. He comes to bridges which he builds
       and then destroys,
   He brands his steeds with battle-scars,
       above him fly banners and battle-dust,
32. Until at al-Taff
       they wreaked carnage,
   And at al-Thawiyyah
       where no bowstring twanged.
33. The tribesmen saw clearly
       the error of their ways,
   And he straightened out the smirk
       upon their faces.
34. Single-handed, he assumed the burdens
       of the people of Iraq,
   Among whom he once had bestowed
       a store of grace and favor.
35. In the mighty nab'-tree of Quraysh
       round which they gather,
   No other tree can top
       its lofty crown.
36. It overtops the high hills,
       and they dwell in its roots and stem;
   They are the people of bounty,
       and, when they boast, of glory,
37. Rallying behind the truth, recoiling from foul speech,
   In the face of war's calamities
       they stand steadfast.
38. If a darkening cloud casts its pall
       over the horizons,
   They have a refuge from it
       and a haven.
39. God allotted to them the good fortune
       that made them victorious,  
   And after theirs all other lots
       are small, contemptible.
40. They do not exult in it
       since they are its masters;
   Any other tribe, were this their lot,
       would be exultant, vain.
41. Ruthless toward their foe,
       till they submit;
   In victory,
       the most clement of men.
42. Those that harbor rancor toward them
       cannot endure their battle-wrath;
   When their rods are tested
       no flaw is found.
43. It is they who vie with the rain-bearing wind
       to bring sustenance
   When impoverished supplicants
       find scant food.
44. O Banu Umayyah, your munificence
       is like a widespread rain;
   It is perfect,
       unsullied by reproach.
45. O Banu Umayyah, it was I
       who defended you
   From the men of a tribe
       that sheltered and aided [the Prophet].
46. I silenced the Banu Najjir's endless braying
       against you
   With poems that reached the ears
       of every chieftain of Ma'add,
47. Until they submitted,
       smarting from my words-
   For words can often pierce
       where sword-points fail.
48. O Banu Umayyah, I offer you
       sound counsel:
   Don't let Zufar dwell secure
       among you,
49. But take him as an enemy,
       for what you see of him
   And what lies hid within
       is all corruption.
50. For in the end you'll meet
       with ancient rancor:
   Like mange, it lies latent for awhile
       only to break out once more.

The poem grows on you, as you read it.  The caliph was well pleased, as we learned last time.

  1. [1]Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych, “Umayyad Panegyric and the Poetics of Islamic Hegemony: al-Akhṭal’s “Khaffa al-Qaṭīnu” (“Those That Dwelt with You Have Left in Haste”)“, Journal of Arabic Literature 28 (1997), pp. 89-122.  JSTOR.

A forgotten scholar: the grammarian Peter Egenolff (1851-1901)

Bibliography is a perilous trade.  Let a man once follow a footnote, and he may find his hours and days consumed in searching for he knows not what – and wishes he did!

Today I made the acquaintance of a scholar who, as far as I can tell, is scarcely remembered.  I first encountered him in a terse 19th century footnote.

The occasion was that I started to read about Byzantine Zoology – the study of animals in that period.  The first author is a certain Timotheus of Gaza, who lived in the late 5th century, in the reign of the emperor Anastasius. The bibliographical source is Herbert Hunger’s Die hochsprachliche profane Literatur der Byzantiner, vol. 2, p.265.  But I quickly discovered material online telling me that Timotheus was a pupil of the Egyptian philosopher, Horapollo.  Unfortunately the ancient source was not specified.

However I was fortunate enough to come upon a preview of the Brill Companion to Ancient Greek Scholarship vol. 2, p.249, a volume hitherto unknown to me, giving a reference:

329. See Seitz [1892] 30 with n.3; cf. also Reitzenstein [1897] 312.

A bit of searching in the preview revealed that “Seitz” was Die Schule von Gaza, which was online here.  This in turn had a nice note on p.30 which referred to Dr Egenolff, in gnomic terms:

The statement is plain enough; the claim is made in a manuscript, the “Codex Vallicellianus E 11”.  Which is … what?  Well, I thought that I would look up “Egenolff, Progr. Heidelberg, 1888.”

This apparently simple task has consumed much of the afternoon.

“Egenolff” is in fact Dr. Peter Egenolff, born in Limburg-Offheim in 1851, and who died young in Heidelberg in 1901.  He seems to have spent his life in Heidelberg.  There is an online entry for him at the German national library here, which points to a book entry, online in bitmap here, with a couple of pages on his life.  Unfortunately the text was printed in Fraktur; and as neither German language nor Fraktur typeface is something I read with ease, the result is that I learned no more.

Somewhere there is Fraktur OCR, developed by Abbyy; but it was funded by public money in such a way that it was not made available to anyone.  So … unless some German gentleman cares to transcribe it, the entry will remain unreadable.

Searching for Egenolff’s work produces a series of pamphlets online, all rather obscure.  He seems to have specialised in philology, and in Greek grammatical and accentuation studies.  For instance he published two volumes of Anonymi Grammaticae Epitoma, in different places: volume 1 appeared in 1878; volume 2 in 1889.  These are extracts from manuscripts, with Latin preface and no translation.  For a while I thought that our snippet must be in these; and I wished that I had more time to devote to reading them.  He also published a Prolegomena in anonymi grammaticae epitomam; but this was in 1876 (online here).

Eventually I struck lucky: the volume is in fact Die Orthographischen Stücke der byzantinischen Litteratur / von P. Egenolff. … zu dem Programm des Gr. Gymnasiums Heidelberg für das Schuljahr 1887/88. (Online here). I think that Seitz could perhaps have picked a better abbreviation than “Progr.”.  And on the last page of the booklet – all these items are less than 50 pages – we find the material that I was looking for.  But that’s another story.

And I have still to look at “Reitzenstein”!


From my diary

My house is still being painted.  My books are still in 70 plastic crates in the garage.  But this weekend I’ve managed to sneak my laptop back into the house.  I’ve brought in the router and got my internet working again!

It is such a relief to be able to get online at home.  I can get online at work at my current client, but since I know that their office network is subject to repeated virus outbreaks, I don’t connect to my email there.

Here I am still surrounded by painter’s gear, and nearly everything still is packed up in boxes in my garage.  The smell of paint is everywhere.  The carpets are being taken up, and there is dust and dirt in all sorts of places.  Living in a building site is challenging, particularly when you have to wipe the paint off your taps, or your vacuum cleaner, where the painter has carelessly handled them.  It has become part of my routine every evening when I get home.

Also I’m finding that one thing leads to another.  What was originally just a job painting all the walls and ceilings and white woodwork is now going to involve replacing all the carpets.  Pulling up the carpets reveals damaged floorboards.  I’m trying to get a carpenter in, and deal with this.  My, these people are difficult to contact!

Tacking down a damaged floorboard was enough to stick a nail through a pipe, which meant a plumber, which meant lots of air into the radiators.  I’m still bleeding the radiators at intervals.

Meanwhile I decided that my original choice of replacement carpet colour – beige – would be depressing when it’s dark or raining, i.e. for 9 months of the year.  So I’m spending all my spare moments traipsing around carpet shops.  I would just buy the same type as I currently have;  but they do not make it any more.  You can only buy what they sell.

This leads me to wonder … will future archaeologists date our dwellings, not by types of non-existent pottery, but by types of polyester carpet?

So there’s no time for Thoughts on Antiquity.  But then, I am lucky.  If I was married, I’d have no time to do anything.

The most interesting thing today is a 1954 aerial photograph of the London Mithraeum, which was here.  Sadly it’s not that clear which bit is the temple.


Not very exciting, perhaps… but as good as it gets!

I’ve been thinking again about ways to manage my books.  One item that I could happily dispense with is Bart Ehrman’s Forgery and Counterforgery, a big fat worthless book of which I reviewed bits some time back.   I wish someone would make a PDF of it; I’m  not sure that a Kindle download is quite as useful for reference purposes.

I’d also like to see the back of my Ancient Christian Writers series volumes.  I don’t have many, but they’d be far more useful in eBook form, and they would take up less space.  But I couldn’t see any sign that you can buy eBooks of them.

Basically if it is a translation of an ancient text, in the majority of cases, I don’t want it in paper form.

The exception, of course, is translations that one can read for pleasure.  My copy of the Penguin translation by Betty Radice of Pliny’s Letters is one such example.  It can be read for pleasure, and I have done so, many times.

The four volumes of Cicero’s letters to Atticus, and to his friends are another – and I have no idea at all how to get an eBook of these, long out of print, volumes.  I’m not quite sure whether I will read through these again.  At the moment I am not in the mood; but I have done so several times in the past.

Maybe the answer is to find some young man with time on his hands who would sit in front of the scanner for a few hours, and create eBooks of some of my crucial books.  But where do I find this person?

Somehow, I must regain control of my book collection.

I’ve also been reading Lindsey Davis’ “Flavia Albia” books on my smartphone, via Kindle.  Davis is famous for the “Falco” series of Roman detective novels, set in the Flavian period.  The “Flavia Albia” series are “Son of Falco”; or rather, “Daughter of Falco”.  I bought the first three volumes on Kindle and read them, and they slipped down easily enough.

Recently volume 4 of this series appeared, and I bought it on paper; but in fact I would have been just as happy or happier with it on Kindle.  I don’t know that I shall read it again, so the paperback will go out to a charity shop.

Maybe one-time or two-time novels should be read electronically, rather than on paper?  But … what about our eyes?  Eyestrain is such a problem for smartphone users.

Today I broke off from my house-related chores, and took a restorative walk by the sea.  While doing so, I saw that a new information board had appeared there.  This referred to a building on the sea front, which was recently – within a year or two? – demolished, and was called the “long shelter”.  I always felt that it was an attractive building, and that it should have been repaired rather than demolished.

Well, the information board told me that the demolition took place in 2008!  Was it really 8 years ago?  How fast the years now fall, like leaves in autumn after the first frost.

I was reminded yesterday of “Thoughts on Antiquity”.  This was the blog, at, on which I started blogging.  It was the blog of Chris Weimer, who invited me to write a few posts.  These I copied here long ago; and just as well, for his blog has pretty much vanished.  Looking at, I see the last post was 24 May 2010.  The last snapshot to show it was on September 26, 2010, and the next snapshot, December 17 2010, shows only an HTTP 301 code.  I wonder what happened to it?  Indeed I wonder what happened to him?  I see that I have an email address … I must write and ask.

I’ve had a series of minor health problems for most of the year, although I don’t believe anything is really wrong.  On Tuesday I go into hospital as an outpatient for a somewhat unpleasant examination.  Wish me luck!


From my diary

I have lived at my current address for nearly 20 years.  When I took possession, on 10th February 1998, I was staying in a hotel with my property in storage.  So I arranged for the place to be painted throughout before I moved in, on the 20th.  I have never been able to arrange for a painter to work without moving out again, so the house decoration has gradually grown rather tired.  It is not bad, but it won’t do for another 20 years.  I must repaint now.

This summer I was finally able to find a painter who was able and willing to do the deed.  He arrives on Monday 17th October, 2016, in fact, if all goes well – for these gentry are notoriously unreliable.  He will move large chunks of furniture around, in order to paint.

But there is one important exception.  Nobody can move bookcases which are full of books.  So this requires me to empty my book cases, which are mostly in my study bedroom.  This I have been doing, for over a week now.  The cartons I have placed in my garage; 24 of them so far.

It is difficult to find cartons suitable for books.  I have been driven to buying 32 litre shallow “underbed” plastic boxes with lids, available at £3 each, from Wilkinsons.  This evening I collected a further 30.

The process of packing is itself a painful one. Without a copious supply of boxes, it is even more stressful.  You find yourself agonising over how to fit stuff into the boxes.  With enough boxes, you don’t worry.  Buy lots of boxes.  It reduces the stress.

Tonight I have at last emptied every visible shelf in my study.  However there still remain many shelves in the large cupboard, including a stack of academic books.  Even these I have started, and may hope to complete tomorrow night.  This is well; for I have little space remaining in my garage.  It has been a heavy task for a man no longer young.  Will I ever have the strength to do it again?

In a way, this makes me think.  Should I really own so many books that I can’t manage them?  I say that I own many; but it is little more than 3,000, I would guess.  How many of these books will I never look at again?  It is all very well to retain books, especially academic books.  But I do wish that I had almost all the academic books in PDF, rather than in paper.  Will I have another purge, I wonder?

Clearing my shelves is like a journey into my own past.  I come across offprints, send unsolicited by a kindly academic.  Vast amounts of old hard disks litter my cupboard.  There are endless dictionaries of ancient Greek, from the days when I hoped to write a Greek translation tool.  Should I dispose of these?  Probably I should … for I no longer have the energy that I did.  In other cases I come across books that I know I will never reread, for I have read them out over the years.  Yet they are part of me, and made me who I am.  What to do?

Men of my age commonly deceive themselves that they will have more time when they retire.  If any of my generation can ever afford to retire, they may find different.

I spent two months at home this summer, in indifferent health.  Five days ago I went back to work, and found the first two days very awful.  I then had some very stressful and tiring days.  Yet … I find myself more alert, fitter, and in better health, now that I am working.  The “curse of Adam”, that all of us must work, turns out to be a blessing.  With “retirement” often comes a vegetable state.

As eBooks become more common, possibly it will be possible for me to buy or otherwise acquire eBooks of some of the academic stuff.  I must invest the money, I think; and buy back control of my shelves!


Thinking about Methodius, De resurrectione and De autexusio

This evening I combined the English translation of the Old Slavonic text of De Lepra with the translation of the Greek fragments of the same work.  The latter were considerably fuller, where I had both, and sometimes with startling differences.  However I hope to have this completed before too long.

This will complete the four short works of Methodius, leaving some Greek fragments, but also two large works: the De resurrectione and the De autexusio (On Free will).  The latter has a French translation by Vaillant.

I’ve worked out the price of translating both, and it is far beyond my means.  If it is to be done, it must be done by a grant.  Fortunately I have such a body in mind, so this evening I have been doing some calculations.

It is relatively straightforward to work out a price for the Old Slavonic of both works, based on the page count of the manuscript.  That said, Vaillant did edit the Old Slavonic text, so in this case we do have an edition to work from.

But working out a price for the Greek is much harder.  It turns out that there is an awful lot of Greek extant for these works.  The total for the Greek is 50% of the total for the Old Slavonic!

A further issue came to my attention when skimming through Vaillant’s preface.  It seems that the Old Slavonic translation is often almost unintelligible.

The reason for this, says Vaillant, is that the translator simply substituted for each Greek word the equivalent term in Old Slavonic, without bothering much about whether the resulting sentence made sense!  In fact he says that often the best thing to do is to reverse the process – to work out what Greek word lies behind each Slavonic word, and then see what the sentence actually originally meant in the Greek!

If we are to take this seriously – and translators are known to exaggerate the difficulty of their achievement sometimes, at the behest of their publishers – then this would mean that only a translator fluent in both Greek and Old Slavonic could make a translation of Methodius.  Only a native English speaker fluent in Greek and Old Slavonic could make an English translation.  Does anyone know of such a prodigy?

But I suspect that this is a tall tale.  Doubtless this may sometimes be the case; but I don’t think that I should abandon the effort of getting a translation made for such a reason.

It is late now, tho, so the application process will have to wait until another day.

One other point caught my eye.  Interestingly Vaillant refers to an unpublished French translation of an Armenian recension of De autexusio.  I wonder where that is now?